Thursday, July 11, 2013

Good, bad and ugly: 7 critics of social media

I’m of an age (56) where lots of my contemporaries show contempt towards social media. It’s rarely a reasoned argument, simply a sneer accompanied by a ‘I’m too good for that sort of thing’ attitude. Euan Semple made the valid point on Facebook that “Not being attracted to the social web is OK but adopting a sneering tone when you tell me that, frankly, isn’t.” and that it’s not easy dealing with the criticism as the debate as it’s very difficult arguing the case for something your opponent has never used or has no real knowledge of.
1. Know nothing critics
Unfortunately, the most common are those who simply scoff and start with something like “Why would I want to know that someone is having a cup of tea…” Barely a week goes by without me experiencing this type of criticism. They haven’t used social media but assume they’re experts on the subject, pull the ‘ugly’ face and sneer as the rest of us. It’s a sort of superior attitude usually accompanied by simplistic, ill-informed views of how social media is actually created and used. All of those Wikipedia articles you’ve used, they were crowdsourced. Ever watched a YouTube video, someone made that and uploaded it.
2. Know a little critics
A little learning is a dangerous thing and some use one aspect of, say facebook, but have no idea that the tool also includes messaging, apps and other functionality. It’s like someone who thinks a car is only useful for social visits to friends and relatives. NO - you can also use a car to get to work, do work, engage in poltics, visit interesting places, go on holiday and so on. Social media for many people, replaces email, voice calls and txting and the sheer range of social media options means that it has many different functions.
3. Lurkers
First, it’s OK to lurk. Some of you reading this sentence will be lurkers, indeed the evidence suggests that in many social media, and media sharing services with a social dimension, the great majority of users are lurkers, who rarely if ever post or comment. What is odd is when the lurkers turn into critics. They take out a lot, but only give back criticism, sharing is a mystery to them.
4. Hypocrites
Let me give you an example.  Pew surveyed 2,462 middle and high school teachers and found that , when it comes to Wikipedia; 1) Teachers recommend that students do not use it, warning them that its accuracy can’t be trusted, but 2)  Teachers overwhelmingly use it themselves for research and preparation. In fact, they use it “at much higher rates than U.S. adult internet users as a whole (87% vs. 53%), Pew also found that Wikipedia reliance “does not vary across teachers of different subjects, grade levels, or community types,” and only varies ever so slightly by age, with 90% of the youngest teachers using it versus 85% of those 55 and older. This is ugly.
5. Know but don’t engage
Some don’t do social media because they simply don’t want to or don’t have the time. That’s fine. This is good. These critics I like. It’s OK not to engage in social media in the same way that it’s OK not to engage in lots of social events, go to the cinema, theatre, football, cricket or music festivals. It’s not for everyone. These people don’t moan and whinge about social media, it’s just not part of their lives. In fact I rather resent the social media Taliban, who insist on everyone being online and everyone needing to be highly ‘social’.
6. Privacy (weak)
Some don’t like to put their neck out and have their lives out there for others to see. This is good, as long as it doesn’t tip over into criticising others for being more social, taking risks and enjoying the range of social, professional and interesting interactions that social media brings. I’ll come to a theory on this later.
7. Privacy (strong)
A stronger argument is the species of critic who values their privacy and has suspicions about government, big business and other shady institutions knowing what they’re up to. I respect this position and think that for some, it is a valid argument. Julian Assange, for example, never uses Facebook for that reason. Given recent revelations, the US government is clearly not to be trusted on the matter. However, I think it’s exaggerated. What exactly in your life do you think they can use against you?
Characteristics of critics
Here’s an observation, not based on any research that I know of, merely a hypothesis. I have noticed two specific characteristic that distinguishes enthusiastic users of social media, from sceptics and critics; 1) personality type and 2) risk taking.
1) Introversion and extroversion. On the whole, the people I know who are extroverts are enthusiastic users of social media, introverts tend to be non-participants or critics (3 good, 2 bad, 2 ugly). This is not a criticism, merely an observation, and it perhaps reflects a general attitude towards networking and social activity by extroverts and introverts both online and offline. This is reflected in my full acceptance of non-participants and the privacy stance (weak and strong). The downside of extrovert dominance is the tendency for people to present their ideal lives online. There’s a lot of showboating that masquerades as sharing.
2) Risk taking. For me, this is a more interesting issue, as I suspect that much of the criticism of social media comes from an intrinsic fear of taking risks that expresses itself as derision. Nervousness often expresses itself as scepticism and scorn. On the whole, the risk takers I know, in business and life, tend to be users of social media, or at least willing to give it a try. Good risk takers are also able to distinguish between good and bad risks, that’s why I respect those who are wary on the grounds of privacy.
Social media Taliban
After all I’ve said above it may surprise you that I don’t follow the groupthink view that we should strive to get everyone online. I’m a libertarian at heart, and for me going online and using social media is a matter of choice. I have little time for spending huge sums of money on this form of mock inclusion. Make it cheap and compelling and they will come. I can remember when print and TV journalists constantly sneered at social media and the web, now they all have their blogs and Twitter accounts. The numbers speak for themselves.
Neither am I a social constructivist and therefore keen on those who see all learning as social and ‘connectivism’ as a valid ‘theory’ of learning. I spend relatively little time, for example, in MOOCs on forums, and don’t much like the diffuse chat that passes for learning or training sessions where round tables construct flipchart pages blue-tacked to the walls. On the other hand I see social media as an invaluable part of my life and learning.

Having used social media since its inception and blogged, facebooked and tweeted for many years, I’ve come across a large number of critics. I respect those who simply opt out as well as those who don’t participate on grounds of privacy (weak and strong). That’s three of my categories. On the other hand, I resent those who simply sneer and/or don’t have any real knowledge of these media in terms of their functionality, actual use and potential. I’m also impatient with the hypocrisy behind lurkers who sneer, and duplicitous hypocrites who condemn but use it at the same time. Stay clear or share, don’t just take or sneer.


Jane Bozarth said...

Donald Clark: THANK YOU.

Jane Bozarth said...

Type 8: The Passive-Aggressive Resistor. This person claims he/she wants to use social tools but hides behind regulations and restrictive policies that do not exist, could be easily overcome or accommodated, or have never been questioned. Claims are made with an impotent, apologetic half-smile-half-sigh rather than a sneer.

Steve said...

The integration of social media with content is increasingly happening, so social media will just be part of everything in future. The G+ platform is an example, I think it will grow significantly as it blends content, community and improves search results. It took me a while but I am really liking G+ especially for content curation and community, when you get a chance have a look at some thoughts:

Betty Gurnell said...

Thank you Donald Clark for sharing more of your wonderful thoughts and ideas. I have found it easy to 1) regulate what I choose to share and 2) what I choose to read.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. I just wondered if you and some others (including me too, I think) aren't an example of an eight or ninth category, the one of critical friends. Like you described I've also been using different platforms intensively, seeing the benefits, but also being not blind for pitfalls and dangers? For heavy believers sometimes critical friends can look as critics because of the nuance added to the discussion.

Donald Clark said...

Pedro. Thanks for the suggested eighth category. It's a good point. As a heavy user of social media I'm still glad that people like Jared Lanier and Julian Assange and many others, are around to warn us of the dangers. This is why I identify three of my categories as reasonable and rational. However, for the other four categories, being a critical friend doesn't seem to work, as they are not for turning. Interestingly, those who completely condemn the medium see, eventually to try it, then like it and become users. It's like the five stages of grief: denial (it'll never catch on or is a fad), anger (I hate it, full stop), bargaining (some of it has some use), depression (oh god I'm being sucked in - I need to stop) and acceptance (I'm using it and it's alright really).

Martin Owen said...

My G,B or U critics are "Professors of Pharmacology". People using their scientific positions and knowledge of "some" neuroscience to make unscientific criticisms and wild generalisations about social media and other uses of ICT that has no data to substantiate their opinion.

Donald Clark said...

Martin - this is a special group led by the hideous, and largely discredited Susan Greenfield. Outrageous claims are being made on the basis of no evidence whatsoever by academics who should know better. My own view is that this is a direct reaction to their loss of power in the creation, delivery and discussion of knowledge.

Unknown said...

Great piece, Donald!
Introverts do use social media; in fact the various platforms and tools provide us with options to voice our opinions after having had the time to reflect a bit.

(not sure if I will post this…am not much for showboating)


Donald Clark said...

Hi Carsten
I'm sure introverts do use social media and tried to be careful in my use of langue with the words 'on the whole' and 'tend'. In fact I may be completely wrong on the introvert/extrovert thing. However, the literature suggests that I'm on the right track see

Helen said...

Brilliant and thank you for calling this out especially the lurkers turned critics. I've been on the receiving end of criticism for sharing my work online, even pulled up on it when others don't agree with what is written. The only way they find out is by reading my blog and tweets but not giving me an opportunity to follow back or they have private tweets.

This attitude must change because it goes against the spirit of openness and collaboration.

Donald Clark said...

Couldn't agree more. It's called SOCIAL media for a reason.

Unknown said...

Hi Donald,

thanks for this piece. I read your blog often but this is the first time I've dared comment!

I'm certainly an introvert, but I've found that social media, twitter in particular, has given me an alternative platform for networking. For a while I felt like I was hiding behind my avatar. But now I find that social media has helped me find my voice.

I blogged about some of this last year. See Hiding Behind my Avatar.

Wildeyedtrot said...

I've often thought the snobbery towards social media resembles that towards TV when I was growing up. I remember being picked up by many middle clas types when hitch hiking who said they refused to have a TV in their house. Many of their criticisms were the same; poor quality content, vulgarity and triviality. I suspect the next technological revolution will receive similar disdain.

Personally I don't use it much. An introvert geek, I think it a good idea but lack the commitment to really get involved. I think your idea of extrovert domination of social media makes sense.

Robin Hoyle said...

What about the social realists?

Donald, I agree with much of what you say, but you missed out one group who criticise the social media Taliban – the social realists. Chief amongst our criticisms of the hype around user generated content is the appropriation of terms which have a well-established and perfectly good use elsewhere. Recently I have seen social entrepreneur, social business and (of course) social learning misused in this way. We social realists reject this hijacking of terms (see what I did there?)

Your argument about hypocrites is also interesting but partial. The Pew research did find teachers using Wikipedia and there is an element of ‘don’t do what I do, do as I say’ about their use of this resource. It stems from an attitude which reflects the “I am sensible enough to use this properly but you are not.” While on the surface this appears hypocritical I also think that the level of media literacy required by students to sort the wheat from the chaff is an important consideration. An outright ban may be over the top, but using Wikipedia as a sole source rather than as an encyclopaedia which opens up the opportunity to read original texts is also inappropriate. In the training business we have suffered too often from the half understood, half-baked and half remembered factoids being presented as the truth the whole truth and nothing but. As far as I’m aware most teachers – certainly in post-16 education – would have no problems with the use of Wikipedia as initial reading but, recognising at least the potential for information to be inaccurate or created by those with a particular axe to grind, would expect citations to be made from elsewhere. Larry Sanger – one of the original founders of Wikipedia – certainly deducts marks from his students if they cite Wikipedia in their work. His long running spat with Jimmy Wales (the other Wikipedia founder) is well known and this may be a significant element of the background here, but Jimmy Wales has acknowledged in interviews that Wikipedia is not the font of all knowledge some of its advocates would claim.

I am also a 50+ blogger, tweeter and facebook user (I even have a Tumblr account though no idea what to do with it). I occasionally lurk, but my lurking is not learning. When I write, I process information and learn, and a lot of what I write appears on the web in one forum or another. Reflection is greatly assisted by social media.

But what I write is partial. I am, after all, selling my services and my publications. I am using social media as one component of my public persona and my shop window. My marketing involves sharing. It is the currency of the age and the entry price for those of us working in the knowledge business. It is also a significant editorial bias. I also have concerns about privacy, but if the NSA want to inspect my tweets I’d be quite content, especially if they then went out and bought my book. My real issue is that those who provide any ‘free’ service have only one product – me and you. We are sold to advertisers. I am uncomfortable about being packaged as a product especially by those whose business ethics and tax status may be questionable.

One of the challenges I find with the unquestioning engagement with social media as a learning tool is how quickly opinion is transformed into fact. You write: “Here’s an observation, not based on any research I know of, just a hypothesis”. I actually think you may have a point here but it is, as you clearly say, it is your opinion – with which I happen to agree.

Here’s a challenge. I will give £100 to the charity of your choice if it is not cited as fact in an online forum in the next 6 months. If it is, you give £100 to the charity of my choice. I can send you the list of chosen charities now if you’d prefer to skip the waiting.

Thanks for the opportunity to reflect and learn through that process.

Donald Clark said...

Robin - thoughtful comments - thanks.
I'm in your camp on most of this and have posted plenty against the social idealists.
As I say, I'm wary of social contructivism and exaggearted claims over social media. Like you I also have a problem with the slapdash use and overuse of the word 'social'.
On Wikis, I've written a more substantial piece
and am not at all sure that Teachers are being sophisticated in their use of Wikipedia. I think, like most users, their use is largely one of convenience. In my experience teachers, trainers, even academics have long-lived in a 'cut and paste' culture. Try being adventurous in a school essay and you see it swing into action - the 'theoretical groupthink'. Wikipedia is only a starting point - but a good one and actually quite useful in terms of distinguishing between primary, secondary and tertiary sources. Larry Sanger, in my view, seems like a man scorned - too interested a party for me and, as you say, Wales has long taken a more sophisticated view of knowledge in Wikipedia.
I'm not really selling services on the web, and use it as a publishing and dissemination platform. Note that in these comments, an introvert challenged my 'hypothesis'. This made me look at the research in more detail and there's a link to what I think is a relevant academic paper on the topic (social media and personality type). Indeed, my next post will be on this topic. However, I agree that few people put citations into their blog posts.
To be honest, I'm not so concerned about the 'wild west' stuff in social media. I just find the academic world so slow, dull, unengaging and sometimes downright arrogant. In my experience academia is just as ready to turn opinion into fact. Take 'social constructivism' the mantra in almost every education department in every University in the UK. Or 'Learning styles' promulgated in teacher training courses in Universities all over the world.It is the web that is challenging these assumptions. In fact, I rather like the rough and tumble of the web!
I suppose that the fact we're having this reasonably sophisticated debate, on social media, is proof of is strength.
Thanks again for your comments Robin, always insightful. We're roughly on the same page here.